Accurate Miniatures 1/48 SBD-3 Dauntless

By Brad Fallen

Return of a classic…

The achievements of the Douglas SBD Dauntless and its crews during the Battle of Midway in June 1942 – when they smashed Yamamoto’s carrier force and in doing so crippled Japan’s imperial ambitions – are justly famous. Also renowned, within scale modelling circles, is the quality of Accurate Miniatures’ 1/48 SDB series, first released in the 1990s but recently re-issued with new marking options. So when I saw AM’s latest SBD-3 boxing, which enables the modeller to build any of VB-3’s aircraft which flew off the USS Yorktown on 4 June 1942, I had to have it.

The kit makes up into an excellent model, and I am highly satisfied with the result. But it was a challenging build. I started the kit in February 2006, as something of a sabbatical after six months of wrestling with Classic Airframes’ Wyvern (which also builds into a nice model, but that’s another story…), with the intention of completing it for our club competition the following May. However it ultimately took me until February 2007 to finish, due in part to the kit’s complexity and some shortcomings of the boxing that I chose.

…with some unnecessary problems

The biggest problem I encountered stemmed from AM’s mixing-and-matching of sprues from its SBD-5 and Coral Sea SBD-3 releases, to include the twin rear .50 cal guns that were being fitted to SBD-3s by the time of Midway. While this was a good idea in itself, unfortunately AM’s quality control wasn’t thorough enough, because the cowl top and nose gun cover parts that were included on the twin gun sprue were correct for an SBD-5, but simply didn’t fit to the SBD-3 cowlings provided. Initially, I thought it was my ham-fisted modelling skills that were to blame, but consultation with the instructions and references eventually revealed the source of the problem. Full marks to AM for their excellent customer service – both of my requests for replacement parts were met very promptly, even taking into account the fact that the items had to be sent to Australia. Also to AM’s credit, they have subsequently acknowledged the errors with this particular SBD boxing on their website (www.accurate-miniatures.com), providing both advice for dealing with the problems and a promise that they won’t be repeated in future releases of the kit.

Another lesser problem, also stemming from the kit’s hybrid origins, were the instructions. The main instruction booklet – for AM’s Coral Sea SBD-3 – was great, with assembly steps clearly described and illustrated, and with very good painting call-outs. However, the supplementary sheet that was supplied to cover the construction and marking differences required to complete a Midway SBD-3, while containing some useful researched information on VB-3, included a disappointing painting and decal placement guide. The tone used to depict the light grey upper surface colour, particularly, was so dark that it was virtually impossible to determine the correct locations for stencil placement. Again, the main instruction sheet and other references saved the day.

My final complaint is that the unique US national markings used at the time of Midway – the large early war blue and white star with the red centre hastily painted over, but still visible through the white top coat – were so out of register as to be unusable. This was doubly unfortunate because, first, the stars otherwise looked very good indeed, and secondly, I didn’t notice the problem until I had applied the two underwing decals, which then had to be carefully scraped off. In the end I used stars from Yellow Wings Decals sheet of US National Insignia 1919-1942, with the red centres covered with white circles poached from AM’s SBU-3 Vindicator kit.

Construction begins

In terms of actual construction, as almost every reviewer of every AM kit warns, you need to follow the instructions closely. The kit is very tightly engineered, and if you deviate from the recommended construction sequence – particularly in relation to the cockpit and major airframe components – you risk being well stuffed. As it was, even though I (thought I had) done exactly as instructed, I still ran into a little trouble with the lower wing/lower fuselage and undercarriage/lower wing joins.

Construction began with the front and rear cockpits, which were a joy in terms of the level of detail and fit of the parts (even the reputedly tricky bits, such as the pilot’s foot rails and rudder control links, and the gunner’s turret ring). Airbrushed with Gunze Interior Green, washed with a water-thinned mix of Tamiya Red Brown and Black, and with details picked out as appropriate, the cockpits are really very good straight out of the box.However, I couldn’t help adding a few extras:

  • Eduard’s marvellous pre-painted USN seatbelts (early), which come in both green and tan – I used the tan-coloured ones. While pretty finicky to assemble, they look fantastic, particularly after a wash to pop out all the detail.

  • Some items from Waldron’s 1/48 SBD cockpit details and placards set – not essential, but adds some nice touches.

  • Some placards, levers, wiring, gun sight and armour plate for rear guns, using decals, photo-etched and other items from the spares box.

  • Finally, the dials from AM’s instrument panel decal were individually cut out and applied, and looked great under a blob of Future.

With the fuselage halves joined up and all the cockpit components winkled into place, it was time to add the wings. As I’ve mentioned, the rear lower wing/lower fuselage join was not a good one, being fouled a little by the bottom of the cockpit unit. I’m still not sure what went wrong – it all looked fine before I glued it in place, but clearly I hadn’t done enough test fitting. However, with a little scraping, a lot of putty and even more expletives, an acceptable result was achieved. The good news was that the upper wing halves fit beautifully, with only tiny gaps at the roots that were easily dealt with by Mr Surfacer. The horizontal stabilisers were similarly cooperative. After sorting out what was wrong with the combination of cowling parts provided, and securing replacements from AM, I was ready to start painting.

Painting and decals

This was the best part of the build. After priming the model with Tamiya grey primer (sprayed straight from the can) and cleaning up all the little errors I couldn’t see until now, I built up the camouflage in layers. I used Gunze-Sangyo acrylics for this – mixed 1:1 with G-S 110 thinner, they spray beautifully through my old Badger 200 at @10-12 PSI and dry with a nice semi-gloss sheen. For the lower surfaces, I went with light gull grey (H-51) as my base coat, then added a little aircraft grey (H-57) to make a slightly darker mix which I sprayed along panel lines and into nooks and crannies. I then highlighted panel centres with H-51 mixed with a little white, before blending it all back together with another light coat of H-51. I followed a similar approach for the upper surface camouflage, using a 2:4 mix of blue-grey (H-42) and H-57 as my base colour, then varying the proportions of H-57 to achieve lighter and darker tones along the edges and in the centres of panels, before again blending it together with an overall coat of my base colour. The upper/lower surface colour demarcation was sprayed freehand for a gently feathered effect, which I had been dreading but which was actually surprisingly easy.

With painting complete and several light coats of Future added, I started on the decals. AM’s decal sheet allows you to build any of VB-3’s SBDs that flew at Midway, and I (somewhat predictably) selected that of the unit’s CO, LCDR Max Leslie, who lost his bombs en route due to an electrical fault, but who nonetheless lead his crews in the dive on the Japanese carriers using only his forward firing .50 cals – real Boys’ Own Paper stuff! So I jumped into the decaling with enthusiasm – only to encounter the previously mentioned out-of-register national insignia that were provided with the kit. As a result the project was delayed by three weeks while I waited for my replacement Yellow Wings insignia to arrive. The Yellow Wings insignia performed beautifully, as did the remainder of the kit decals – including the gorgeously rendered overpainted red-and-white rudder stripes, which after several applications of Microset and Microsol settled down very well into the complex shapes and curves of the rudder.

I sealed the decals with another coat or two of Future, then washed the panel lines with a mix of 10% Tamiya XF-1 black/XF-64 red-brown, 90% water and a drop of dishwashing liquid (with acknowledgement to Brett Green at Hyperscale!). I find this wash needs to be applied fairly precisely along panel lines, with any excess wiped off quickly to avoid unwanted stains, but the result is a beautifully restrained enhancement of the aircraft’s structure. Finally, when this was dry, I sealed everything up with 2-3 light coats of Humbrol matt varnish.

Home straight

Meanwhile, I had also been constructing and painting the kit’s numerous subassemblies – the engine, prop, undercarriage, bombs, dive flaps, canopies, etc etc! This was pretty time consuming, and in some cases finicky, but great parts engineering and fit meant that few actual problems were encountered. Having read that the fit of the kit-supplied canopy masks was dubious, I used Eduard’s kabuki tape masks and was very impressed with the result (apart from having to re-polish a couple of areas where I had used Maskol to fill in gaps between the Eduard masks – the Maskol had reacted with the Future in which I’d dipped the canopies, and partially fogged them).

My final touches included replaced the kit exhausts with Moskit’s SBD early (short) exhaust pipes, which look great; making my own fuselage .50 cal gun barrels from brass tubing; and adding the radio aerial from E-Z Line (which I used for the first time on this kit and now swear by).

Conclusions

AM’s 1/48 SBD-3 is an absolutely first-rate kit. It certainly doesn’t fall together, but rewards a careful builder with a superb representation of the original aircraft. It is unfortunate that AM’s latest reboxing of the kit contained the errors that it did, which certainly detracted from my enjoyment of the build. However, I have already said, AM’s aftermarket service is excellent – much better than several other companies I have dealt with – so if you go into this kit with your eyes open, you’ll have a great time.

References:

1. Bert Kinzey, SBD Dauntless in Detail and Scale, 1996.
2. Lynn Ritger, Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless, Hyperscale.com, 2003 (article on upgrading Hasegawa’s 1/48 scale SBD-4 and completing it in markings for Leslie’s aircraft).
3. Stewart Bailey, SBD-3 Dauntless walkaround, Aircraftresourcecenter.com, 2003.
4. Tom Cleaver, full-build reviews of various SBD kits, Modelingmadness.com, 2001-2006

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